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OPINION

Obama must negotiate free trade with the UK

John O'Neill

In the heat of the Brexit debate, the Obama administration unwisely weighed in. The problem was not — and is not — that President Obama took a side in the Brexit debate, urging British voters to remain part of the European Union.

The problem was — and is — that the president and his trade representative, Michael Froman, warned the British voters that the U.S. was not in the market for a free trade agreement with an individual country.

Now a free trade agreement with an individual country is exactly what the Obama administration must accomplish. What’s at stake is the United Kingdom staying united, a goal every bit of interest to the United States as was the call for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union.

The problem is that, whereas England voted to leave the European Union, Scotland voted overwhelmingly (62 percent) to remain in the union. The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union has rekindled talk in Scotland to opt out of the United Kingdom and assert its independence.

This can be avoided by way of a United States-United Kingdom free trade agreement. By breaking with the European Union, the British have provided Scotland an incentive to separate from the United Kingdom. A free trade agreement with the United States, an essential trading partner to every party in Great Britain, Scotland as well as England, will provide Scotland a new incentive to stay in the United Kingdom.

Having his trade representative threaten the British electorate that trade with the United States would be curtailed in the event of the United Kingdom opting out of the European Union, the president loses face now to seek a free trade agreement with the British. President Obama has to go back on his warning to the British electorate and negotiate a free trade agreement.

The stakes are higher than the president’s personal prestige.

John O’Neill is a writer based in Allen Park.